Is it just actually that I read too MUCH?

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tall pile of books

This many! This is how many I’m reading RIGHT NOW!

No, no, of course I don’t mean I read TOO MUCH in general, too many books over the course of the year. There’s no such thing, is there? There’s no better thing than reading lots of books (hobby: no better hobby; obviously it’s better to be running around giving all your possessions to Good Causes and generally doing good, but you know what I mean).

But I haven’t really finished many books recently – my last review was THIRTEEN DAYS ago and I’ve only finished one book since then, which is waiting to be reviewed. I do have gaps, but this seems particularly shocking. So I have started to wonder if it’s the number of books I am reading concurrently that’s messing things up a bit.

Here’s the thing: do you read one book at a time, or many? And, here’s the most important thing: do you think you’re more ‘productive’ if you only read one at a time – do you actually get through MORE books that way?

This is what I’ve always said I have on the go at any one time:

  • One larger or more “special” book (maybe a Persephone or hardback) which I read in the house, at the breakfast table, etc. This sometimes extends into two books, for example I won’t read a Persephone while eating, so I might have a Persephone on the night stand and a political biography, say, at the table.
  • One smaller and more portable book for in my handbag when popping into Birmingham or going on longer journeys. Now I’m trying to actually READ the books I have packed onto my Kindle, this can take electronic or paper form.

That should be doable, shouldn’t it. But the problem is, it doesn’t really work like that. Here’s what I’m reading at the moment …

  • Friday to Saturdayish I’m reading the New Statesman on my tablet at the table. Sunday to Tuesdayish, it’s the Saturday Guardian newspaper. Sometimes there’s a bit of struggling slowly through an Icelandic newspaper going on with the tablet, too, although that’s usually upstairs near my dictionaries. I LOVE the New Statesman and I have not once, in the year I’ve been subscribing, experienced Mag Lag with it (when you are still reading the last issue when the new one arrives), even though it’s an (almost) weekly. I like the e-version of the newspaper because I can skim it more. But these two do take away time from reading at the table.
  • I’m currently reading a big fat 19th century novel on the Kindle, which a friend lent to me in paper form, but I wasn’t doing well with the huge unwieldy paperback, so I downloaded a free copy from manybooks.net. I’m reading this at the table and in bed, and on the bus.
  • I have a book of essays from newspapers that I’m reading at the gym. Often the gym book is the same as the handbag book, but I don’t want to sweat all over my Kindle, so started this. I cycle and read for about an hour to 90 minutes a week, so that’s not going to get through much book, even at my speed of reading (for those concerned about my ability to read and exercise vigorously, I do an odd and self-invented form of interval training whereby I pedal very much harder every 5th page).
  • I have a hardback book on the history of the Tube which I picked off the TBR to look at and haven’t really looked at properly yet.
  • I have the terrible, terrible shame of Iris Murdoch’s book on Sartre, which isn’t very big but is a bit too difficult for me – so it’s “being read” but then being hidden on the back sofa under a pile of handbags …

I think that’s it, and it doesn’t seem too bad. Is it just because I’m reading a  big novel that I’ve got a bit stuck and low on the reviewing front? Should I just knuckle down and read one at a time? After all, I don’t have a problem with “having” to read a particular book, as I read my TBR in acquisition order and don’t get to make many choices based on reading mood there. Or should I carry on as I am?

How do you do it? Have you noticed yourself getting through more books using one method or the other, single or many reads, if you’ve tried both? Or should I just go on holiday or get a cold and get them all finished?

 

Read this and pass it on …

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mature_frontI don’t do chain letters and blog award things very often, but I’ve been nominated in this writers’ one, and as I have my new books out at the moment (“Who are you Calling Mature?” and the Business Omnibus), I thought it would be a nice one to do. The person who nominated me is Chris Longden, aka Funnylass, a novelist who’s a friend of a friend; she writes satirical novels that are funny and make you think, and she’s been generous in sharing three nominations in her post.

So, the idea is that you accept the nomination, answer four questions, then pass it on and nominate two more writers. I’m glad that the writers can be fiction, non-fiction writers or even Plain English writers and editors like my friend and fellow-nominee, Laura Ripper (here’s her post from today, too) and here I go with my answers …

What are you working on?

I’ve just published my new business book, “Who are you Calling Mature? Running a Successful Business after the Start-up Phase”, and so what I’m mainly working on is building its visibility, collecting some reviews (including sending out a few review copies) and then talking about it. I’ve done this one in print and e-book versions simultaneously (exciting!) after producing a print version of my first business book, “Going it Alone at 40″. I’ve been working on climbing up the steep learning curve with that: I’ll admit to having 10 copies in my possession which are formatted a little oddly – for that reason, I’m going to give them away via BookCrossing. I can assure any potential buyers that the copies now available on print-on-demand will be formatted just fine!

So I’m working on building my profile as an author; I’m always looking at different ways to share knowledge, and I’m contemplating putting myself out there as a speaker locally, although that’s only in the thinking stage at the moment!

How does your writing differ from others in its genre?

I like to think that I have two Unique Selling points in the business how-to genre …

  1. I have a relaxed and approachable style, encouraging rather than instructing, and happy to admit my own mistakes and learning points. I like to be a bit light-hearted, friendly and sometimes funny, which is something I do in my blog posts and something I take across to my books. My first book talks about what a homeworker wears, and my second one takes you on journeys through the real ways in which social media can help you – all trying to tell it how it is while encouraging my readers to take those first and subsequent steps. I hope that I come across as caring, too.
  2. I give all of the information people need. I give a lot of information away on my blogs, and this, again, carries over into my books. I get really frustrated when people don’t tell you exactly how they did things, or you have to even buy an expensive downloadable or course in order to find out the nitty-gritty details. I share exactly how I’ve done what I’ve done, in detail, with examples from my own life. The books don’t have many images in them, but they have links to FREE material on my blogs which has screen shots and all sorts of extra explanations. I have vowed never to make my readers pay extra to access that material: it is important to me not to do that. They can buy the next book, or the other book, of course …!

Why do you write what you do?

I am passionate about encouraging people to believe that they can set up and run a successful business – on their own terms. I started writing my Word tips on my business blog when I didn’t know how to do something and wanted to make a note of it. That built into a successful series, then when I went full-time with my self-employment, I decided to blog about my experience, sharing exactly how I did it and what happened. That became the raw material for my first book, and my next year of blog posts formed the nucleus (although again much enhanced) of the second one.

I started writing with a how-to guide on lowering your cholesterol without drugs, which is still my biggest seller, and I added one on transcription as a career when I realised that I was getting a lot of searches on that topic reaching my business blog. All of what I do is basically to share what I’ve learned along the way, and to encourage other people by sharing my own experience and real-life examples. If I can inspire somebody to take the plunge and start their own business – and enjoy it – then I’m very happy.

How does the writing process work for you?

The kernel of my books comes from my blog. But it’s not just a question of copying and pasting a load of blog posts into a Word document – there’s a lot of editing and fiddling around, re-ordering, putting into context and new writing to be done.

Typically, I will collect together posts on a topic or number of topics, pop them in a Word document in a vague order, work out what else I need to write, and write that. Once I have a document – oh, and this is all done in the spare time I have in between doing jobs for my regular clients – I send it off to Catherine, my editor, and Chrys, my beta reader, who go over it for typos, errors, things that don’t make sense, things that need more explaining, repetition, etc., etc. Then I edit it again, and out it goes. It can be a long process – obviously the shorter books take less time, but I’ve put out one full-length book a year for the past two years.

Nominations

Now it’s nomination time, I’m pleased to nominate my friend and children’s / teens’ author Leila Rasheed as my first colleague. Leila has written a variety of books, and she also teaches and lectures in creative writing. Leila’s blog post is here.  My second nomination is Fiona Joseph. She’s a fellow non-fiction writer who’s produced some lovely books about figures from Birmingham’s history; she also writes short stories and has a novel coming out this year. Again, there’s lots of interesting stuff on her website and blog, and you can read her post, too!  Over to you, ladies!

A bit of a move-around

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childrens-books thenFollowing on from my post about weeding (see the previous post), I’ve been having a hankering to Do Something about the parlous state of the Children’s Books department. This is pretty well what it looked like up until Monday morning – although after An Incident, the horizontal piles were all moved to the bottom of the bookcase to avoid toppling.

There didn’t seem to be too many of these, so as part of my effort to relieve pressure on both the fiction bookshelves upstairs (just seen in this picture) and the non-fiction bookshelves downstairs, I hatched a plot to take over the little-used “Bookcrossing and hobbies” shelves in what is optimistically called the Spare Bedroom (repository for a futon with no mattress, the clothes airer, my shoes and ‘posh’ clothes and the cat paraphernalia) and move my children’s books AND my three runs of multi-volume encyclopaedias into that room.

Childrens books nowWell, I’m not quite sure how this happened, but this (to the left) turned into this (to the right) when I spread them all out horizontally along the shelves. How? How?

So the encyclopaedias will have to remain downstairs for the time being, while I clear that last Bookcrossing shelf (not seen in the pic) and find somewhere else for my binoculars, camera lenses and cardmaking stuff. Oh, it never ends, does it? But I do feel that anyone perching uncomfortably on the futon base (or the cat, when he makes a break for the food stores) will have a more pleasant time of it for the accompaniment of a collection of children’s classics, from Kipling to Ransome to Streatfeild to Pullein-Thomspons to Ferguson to Willard to Lancelyn Green to Magrs to Eveleigh (note to Kaggsysbookishramblings: there’s a Beverley in there, too!).

persephonesAnd in the meantime, my Persephone collection is looking rather fine in its new home, with plenty of space to breathe (I have a couple on my TBR) and giving the rest of the fiction collection room to breathe, too. All good, I feel. If a bit dusty. Achoo!

A day off

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char wallahOne of the great things about running your own business is that you can (often) take a day off when you fancy it, without having to ask anyone’s permission. So I had a day off with Matthew today – we started off at the Birmingham Social Media Cafe for its fifth birthday, and chatted with regulars and newbies, had lunch at Eat, and then did a bit of shopping – new coats for both of us and my birthday TKMaxx vouchers finally spent. Our friend Ali had told us about a new shop called Char Wallah and so we popped there – do drop by if you’re near the Pavillions, shopping centre. They have a lovely little shop nestling on the basement floor, with a huge range of teas as well as teapots and mugs. A really warm welcome and they have worked really hard on the concept and design, so deserve to do well. I hope to feature them in my Small Business Chats on the Libroediting blog soon, so watch this (that) space.

We’re now finishing our day off with a lovely cup of tea, curled up on the sofa with our books and cats. Hooray for days off. And if you run your own business and don’t take random days like this – why on earth not? We can all do one every now and then!

Well, I’m at home anyway …

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window screenLast summer, we had a load of work done on the house, including having all of the exterior paintwork done and a new front door. Cue anguish, hours of sorting things out, and sawdust EVERYWHERE. Did we (especially I) learn? No we did not. This summer, we had Terry in to hang pictures (only eight years after we moved in), do other bits and bobs (including installing a new floor in the cats’ toilet) and make cat safety window screens. We also had a company in to replace the roof of our bay window.

Now, Terry is pretty self-sufficient and very quiet – but you can hardly give a man 12 pictures and ask him to hang them around the house without being there to tell him where they go. Or expect him to know how tall you are so he can fit the locks on the window screens. And the roofing men, while efficient and good workmen, sang. Constant snatches of popular tunes and TV theme tunes from the 1920s through to now.

It wasn’t M’s fault, it was probably my fault: there was an assumption that because I’m at home all day, I can project manage these things. As I said, did I learn nothing from last summer?

Last week, I did the usual 34 or so hours of paid work. All I can say is, it was handy that M was away for work, because I had the whole of Monday and over half of Tuesday with the roofing men banging and whistling, and most of Wednesday needing to be on hand at various intervals to demonstrate my ability to reach fixings on the frames (I did have tranches of time when I could get on with stuff that day, thanks to Terry’s ability to refrain from singing while working). I had work in which can’t really be done on a laptop, and I certainly needed to be around as the roof men were an unknown quantity and I needed to be on hand for Terry. So, to cut a long story short, I ended up working really late on several evenings in the week, and most of the weekend, two things that I normally pride myself on not having to do any more.

Yes, it’s good to be able to be flexible. No, I don’t feel that I’ve been taken advantage of, apart from by myself. But being flexible because you like a flexible lifestyle or have one dentist appointment at a time unpopular for office workers and working all the hours there are because you’ve booked in too many other responsibilities during the day are two different things.

picture on the landing wall

A picture hanging on the actual wall!

Next time we have work done, we’re going to do this: (a) arrange for me to book some actual time off to look after it, (b) arrange for M to have some time off work to manage at least part of it while I work. I will also try to make sure I have work that I can do with a laptop when I’ve got potentially noisy workmen in.

Well, it’s all part of the learning process, I suppose. How do you manage this kind of thing? Are you put upon, or do you bring it upon yourself?

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Give me a break! Well yes, I will

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Tea! The other month, I had an interesting time with busy-ness and quietness. I’ve been reflecting on it and mulling over this post ever since.  Having been wondering if I’d been overdoing it yesterday, I realised it was time to post this out into the world.

I had had quite a busy week, with one big project and lots of small to medium ones. It involved a lot of juggling, one late night, and a Thursday when I hammered through lots and lots of bits and bobs, to the possible consternation of onlookers. I even had to turn down some work (new work, so as not to let down my current clients) and deflect some other work to my trusty emergency support proofreader, Linda (thanks, again, Linda). Matthew had to cook dinner for an invisible girlfriend, only briefly seen foraging for food and tea …

But I am getting better at taking breaks, honestly. So when it got to the Friday and I’d got through the bits of work I had deadlines for, I then had a lovely long extended lunch break with a friend and her small daughter in the park, and a good long trip to the gym in the early evening, before stopping work for the day. At the weekend, I worked around the rest of my life, working on projects early and when Matthew was out or wanted to watch TV. I even had a good long read in bed after breakfast on Saturday.

The post I wrote about presenteeism has helped me here: I realised that I posted a lot about working on social media, and was perhaps thinking too much about how much I work. I haven’t scaled down what I do, but I’ve been aware of not taking too much on, and have obviously become better at scheduling things in and knowing how long jobs are likely to help. Keeping my reading journal on this blog has helped me to be more aware of making time for reading, and I make an effort to have time for friends and Matthew.

I feel like I’m getting it more right. I look after myself in the busy spells (and can usually predict them so I can work up to them and come to them healthy and relaxed) and don’t panic in the quiet spells, taking that time to have some time out and enjoy myself.

I managed pretty well in the Olympics, watching most of the sport I wanted to see, and fitting my work around it. And I had a holiday in a place without reliable wi-fi at the end of August, and survived, just about, having pre-warned my regular customers that I wouldn’t be very available, and managing to relax about the whole thing.

As it comes up to a year since I left my library job and stopped trying to fit two jobs and the rest of everything into one life, I think I’m getting there with getting the balance. And I’ve also been refining my customer base a bit, which is something for another post.

If you work for yourself, how are you managing with this aspect? Do share!

Book reviews – Green Grass of Wyoming, The Bolter, Duane’s Depressed and Meet Me In Mozambique

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The last of my October reads – I really didn’t read much in October! I’m not sure why – I have had some busy work weeks but had some quiet ones in October, too. I know I got on with some quite big books, and I caught up with my Mag Lag too … Anyway, here are three reads and one DNF …

Mary O’Hara – “Green Grass of Wyoming”

(1980s)

Ken is 16 now and his brother Howard is off to West Point. Ranch finances have improved thanks to the sheep and cattle, and Nell has her extension and furnace, but the prize bull is terrifying and Nell s having horrible premonitions and feels ill. Thunderhead has got out of the secret valley and is stealing mares to set up a new herd, and when he comes across a prize racehorse filly, Ken gets to meet her owner, Carey, and it’s love at first sight. But Carey has an overbearing grandmother, Jewel can’t be found, and Ken and Howard find themselves squaring up as rivals. The romance, which I loved during my teenage reads of this book, seems a bit rushed and naive now, but Nell’s struggles are heartbreaking. I could go on and on reading about this family and their horses, but this is the last one … Really glad I have re-read them all over the past few months, though.

I seem to have last read this along with the others in the series in July 2000 (interestingly close to my readings of the Larry McMurtry Thalia series): here’s my review from then:

“The characters from the previous books, people and horses, grow up and face more challenges. More overtly Christian than the earlier books, and with a new love interest, but still the same excellent, spellbinding stories and characters.”

Frances Osborne – “The Bolter”

(26 January 2012)

Another from my great Stratford charity shop haul, and a Virago, too.

The story of the author’s naughty great-grandmother, by what I realised is Tory Chancellor, George Osborne’s wife (sorry – that put me off a bit!). All the tales of wild goings-on were competently enough told with the right amount of detail, but the fact remains that it’s all pretty sordid, and while it’s obviously good to be a strong woman in charge of your destiny, it’s all a bit shallow and nasty, and Idina actually comes across as pretty weak and needy, but all sympathy is geared towards Idina and her awful behaviour. You can’t help remembering, too, that behaviour condoned in the very rich is castigated in the poorer levels of society …

Larry McMurtry – “Duane’s Depressed”

(11 April 2000)

Third in the original Thalia trilogy, being re-read before I get to books 4 and 5, purchased recently, and more wonderful realistic McMurtry. Duane gives up his pick-up truck and starts walking everywhere, for no apparent reason, then living in a shack on his property. There is lots of satisfying detail about how he arranges things, but the local community and his family proclaim his depression. There is a general improvement in the family, however, as everyone pulls their socks up, although golden boy, Sonny, from The Last Picture Show is actually in more of a decline. A great description of psychoanalysis and – separately – the redeeming quality of gardening. McMurtry pulls a shocker with one beloved main character, but it’s mainly great to be back wallowing in the world of Thalia.

This is the one out of the three that I’d only read once, and I didn’t remember much of it at all. Oddly, I don’t seem to have recorded a review of my first read, even though I mention it in a review of “The Last Picture Show” in 2000.

E. A. Markham – “Meet me in Mozambique”

(29 September 2012)

I wanted to like this, especially as I had found the other two books in the trilogy in January via BookCrossing and bought this second hand so I had the first one, and it is about returning Caribbean immigrants, which is right up my street, but I just could not engage with it for some reason, and gave up.

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